The Center for Early Education
Linking to ecology
Long before humans and automobiles paved over the Los Angeles Basin, the area was a wetland for the Santa Monica Mountains. Centuries of urban development have done little to alter this natural pattern. Today, snowmelt continues to run in astounding quantities to the Pacific Ocean through underground watersheds and storm drains.
Our master plan for The Center for Early Education unearths the story of that underground water flow and turns it into an opportunity to educate students about their environment. It’s situated on La Cienega Blvd — cienega means swamp in Spanish — and must pump out 4,000 gallons daily just to keep its subterranean garage from flooding.
Because the school has almost no ground available for planting, we greened unexpected, but highly visible surfaces like walls and stairs. We carpeted the school’s front entrance in California coastal and exotic vegetation typically found in the surrounding community, creating a vertical jungle.
For the school’s central staircase, which ascends to dramatic rooftop views of the mountains, we suspended native plants in an innovative system of Woollypockets: pouches that hang like aprons from the side of each step.
To connect students with the school’s unique place in the watershed, we borrowed 100 gallons from that underground flow and diverted it to a giant collection tank in the garage. We then exposed all the pipes, pumps, controllers, and emitters involved in using that water to irrigate plants.
Tight on space, this school is built entirely on top of their parking structure. Since all outdoor space is accommodated on the roofs of buildings, there is little space on campus for planting. Therefore, a series of planted walls are designed to be irrigated with a portion of water otherwise headed to the storm drain system. The ‘walls’ are located in the main circulation path of the campus including the school entry and main staircase that links the roof top sports courts. Blue irrigation pipes trace the course of this reclaimed water as it supports new ecologies on campus inspired by the Santa Monica Mountains, California coast and exotic plants both popular and prolific in the Mediterranean climate of Southern California.
At the top of the planted stair, the highest point on campus, an existing outdoor room is outfitted with interactive energy and weather equipment for students to experiment and monitor their environment.
With views to the Santa Monica Mountains, the sky, and their own campus, students can begin to understand the relationships between proximity, nature, weather, and their own power to create energy.
Plant, Seed, and Grow
For the smallest children on campus, a seed station was designed and built to link the concepts of composting and seed cultivation. Individual spaces are provided in a perforated countertop for the entire class of pre-school children. A built-in composter and storage containers hold all that is needed for seed cultivation.
A Sustainable Visualization
A super graphic panel, located at the campus entrance, uses storyboard diagrams to summarize the entire sustainable system implemented on the campus. The path of water is diagramed through its cycle of watershed and evaporation to its new distribution to vertical planted elements at the school and even as it will serve the City of West Hollywood in the maintenance of its street trees via a water truck. Expanding on the phases of water, each didactic component of the energy station is graphically represented and explained in the storyboard. Likewise, the panel narrates the role of compost in fostering new growth to complete the sustainable story of water and plants.